Friday, May 18, 2018

The St. Petersburg School

No. 279 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.

There once were two brothers – Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein. Both were pianists, copmposers and educators; Anton not only founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the first music school in Russia, he was its first director but also recruited an imposing pool of talent for its faculty. Among  its first pupils, a young and eager Peter Tchaikovsky. Once Tchaikovsky graduated in 1865, Rubinstein's brother Nikolai offered him the post of Professor of Music Theory at the soon-to-open Moscow Conservatory – the second institution of its kind in Imperial Russia, and the second founded and directed by the Rubinstein brothers.

However, it would be inaccurate to purely equate the Russian Nationalist “St Petersburg School” with Conservatory and its close predecessor, the Russian Musical Society. Equally important is a group known in Russian as Moguchaya kuchka, which looseluy translates to "Mighty Bunch" – we also know  the group under other names: the Mighty Five, The Mighty Handful or simply the Five - five prominent 19th-century Russian composers who worked together to create distinct Russian classical music. Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin all lived in Saint Petersburg, and collaborated from 1856 to 1870.

The formation of the group began in 1856, with the first meeting of Balakirev and César Cui. Modest Mussorgsky joined them in 1857, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1861, and Alexander Borodin in 1862. All the composers in The Five were young men in 1862 (Balakirev was 25, Cui 27, Mussorgsky 23, Borodin the eldest at 28, and Rimsky-Korsakov just 18).

They were all self-trained amateurs. Borodin combined composing with a career in chemistry. Rimsky-Korsakov was a naval officer (he wrote his First Symphony on a three-year naval voyage circumnavigating the globe). Mussorgsky had been in the prestigious Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Imperial Guard, and then in the civil service before taking up music. For several years, Balakirev was the only professional musician of the group; the others were amateurs limited in musical education. He imparted to them his musical beliefs, which continued to underlie their thinking long after he left the group in 1871, and encouraged their compositional efforts.

The RMS and the two conservatories had powerful champions in Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein, others feared the influence of German instructors and musical precepts into Russian classical music. Balakirev's sympathies and closest contacts were in the latter camp, and he frequently made derogatory comments about the German "routine" which, he believed, came at the expense of the composer's originality.

Balakirev was outspoken in his opposition to Anton Rubinstein's efforts. This opposition was partly ideological and partly personal; Anton Rubinstein was at that time the only Russian able to live on his art, while Balakirev had to live on income from piano lessons and recitals played in the salons of the aristocracy.

As a composer, Balakirev finished major works many years after he had started them; he began his First Symphony in 1864 but completed it in 1897. The exception to this was his oriental fantasy Islamey for solo piano, which he composed quickly and remains popular among virtuosos. Often, the musical ideas normally associated with Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin originated in Balakirev's compositions, which Balakirev played at informal gatherings of The Five. However, his slow pace in completing works for the public deprived him of credit for his inventiveness, and pieces that would have enjoyed success had they been completed in the 1860s and 1870s made a much smaller impact.
Balakirev’s First Symphony (opening the set) is to my ear much more pretentious and ambitious than the aforementioned First symphony by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Like the other members of the group, many of Mussorgsky’s works were inspired by Russian history, Russian folklore, and other national themes. Such works include the opera Boris Godunov, the orchestral tone poem Night on Bald Mountain and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.
For many years Mussorgsky's works were mainly known in versions revised or completed by other composers. This is the case for the selections I retained this week. Like Mussorgsky's earlier Boris Godunov, Khovanshchina deals with an episode in Russian history; the background of the opera comprises the Moscow Uprising of 1682 and the Khovansky affair a few months later, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Tsar Peter the Great and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter's westernizing reforms.

Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882. In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel made their own arrangement at Sergei Diaghilev's request; Diaghilev's company employed a mixture of orchestrations which did not prove successful. The Stravinsky-Ravel orchestration was forgotten, except for Stravinsky's finale, which is still sometimes used. Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky's vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

I think you will love this music too!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Alessandro Deljavan, Chopin ‎– Complete Etudes

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s Tuesday Blog is a Cover 2 Cover share of a Brilliant Classics recording of the complete Chopin études.

The idea of the piano étude conjures up one of two things – a study in composition and harmony or a study in piano performance. We can safely say that Chopin hits both of these objectives. Chopin's études formed the foundation for what was then a revolutionary playing style for the piano. They are some of the most challenging and evocative pieces of all the works in concert piano repertoire.

Some are so popular they have been given nicknames; arguably the most popular of all is Op. 10, No. 3, sometimes identified by the names "Tristesse" ("Sadness") or "Farewell" ("L'Adieu"), as well as the "Revolutionary Étude" (Op. 10, No. 12). No nicknames are of Chopin's original creation.

All twenty-seven études were published during Chopin's lifetime; Op. 10, the first group of twelve, were composed between 1829 and 1832, and were published in 1833, in France, Germany, and England. The twelve études of Op. 25 were composed at various times between 1832 and 1836, and were published in the same countries in 1837. The final three, part of a series called "Méthode des méthodes de piano" compiled by Ignaz Moscheles and François-Joseph Fétis, were composed in 1839, without an assigned opus number. They appeared in Germany and France in November 1840, and England in January 1841.

According to his own website our featured pianist Alessandro Deljavan began learning to play piano before the age of two and gave his first performances at age three. A graduate of the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Giuseppe Verdi of Milan and the Istituto Gaetano Braga. In addition, he has taken part in courses at the Mozarteum Salzburg, the Festival dell Nazioni at Città di Castello and the Ottorino Respighi Foundation on St. George Island, Venice, Italy. His teachers include Valentina Chiola, Piotr Lachert, Ricardo Risaliti, Enrico Belli, Eugenio Bagnoli, Lazar Berman, William Grant Naboré, Dimitri Bashkirov, Laurent Boullet, Fou Ts’ong, Dominique Merlet, John Perry, Menahem Pressler and Andreas Staier.

He has since performed around the world including in Austria, Belgium, China, Columbia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, South Korea, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Alessandro has a discography of over 40 albums with the Stradivarius, Brilliant Classics, Onclassical, Aevea, Naxos, Tactus and Piano Classics labels. Some of the most recent releases include two albums of the complete Chopin Waltzes & Études (the latter is today’s featured recording) and the Complete Chopin Mazurkas. He is currently professor of piano at the U. Giordano Conservatory of Music, Foggia, Italy.

Happy Listening

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

12 Études, Op. 10
12 Études, Op. 25
3 Nouvelles Études, B. 130
Alessandro Deljavan, piano

Brilliant Classics ‎– 95207 (2015)
Details -

Friday, May 4, 2018

Stravinsky: Ballet Suites

No. 278 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Friday Blog and Podcast. Mobile followers can listen to the montage on our Pod-O-Matic Channel, and desktop users can simply use the embedded player found on this page.

For our second of four montages of Russian music, this week’s Blog and Podcast shares three ballet suites, or key highlights from three of Stravinsly’s ballets.

Igor Stravinsky, a towering composer of the twentieth century, was closely linked to dance. His early commissions for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes—The Firebird, Petrouchka, and The Rite of Spring—put him on the international map and propelled both ballet and music into the modern age.
Of the three suites I retained for this week’s podcast, two come from ballets inspired by composers of the past: Tchaikovsky and Pergolesi.

Pulcinella is a one-act neoclassical ballet commissioned by Diaghilev based on an 18th-century play Quartre Polichinelles semblables ("Four identical Pulcinellas"). The ballet premiered at the Paris Opera on 15 May 1920 under the baton of Ernest Ansermet. The dancer Léonide Massine created both the libretto and choreography, and Pablo Picasso designed the original costumes and sets.

Stravincky “composed” the ballet music through the process of revising and modernising existing musical themes attributed to Pergolesi, much of that attribution has since proved to be spurious; some of the music may have been written by Domenico Gallo, Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer, Carlo Ignazio Monza, and possibly Alessandro Parisotti.

The Pulcinella Suite, derived from the ballet, was written in 1922 and its first performance was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Monteux on 22 December 1922. As he did with much of his works which weren’t protected by American Copyright laws, the suite was revised by the composer in 1949 and 1965.

Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss) is a ballet in one act and four scenes composed in 1928 and revised in 1950 for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. Based on Hans Christian Andersen's short story Isjomfruen (English: The Ice-Maiden), the work is an homage to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, for the 35th anniversary of the composer's death. Stravinsky elaborated several melodies from early piano pieces and songs by Tchaikovsky in his score.

The Divertimento is a concert suite for orchestra based on music from the ballet. Stravinsky arranged it in collaboration with Samuel Dushkin in 1934 and revised it in 1949.

The Firebird (French: L'Oiseau de feu) was written for the 1910 Paris season of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Michel Fokine, with a scenario by Alexandre Benois and Fokine based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. When first performed at the Opéra de Paris on 25 June 1910, the work was an instant success with both audience and critics.

The ballet has historic significance not only as Stravinsky's breakthrough piece, but also as the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would also produce the acclaimed ballets Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

Besides the complete 50-minute ballet score of 1909–10, there are three shorter suites arranged by the composer himself for concert performance which date from 1911, 1919 and 1945. While the 1919 suite remains the most well-known and often played, the 1945 version contains the most music from the original ballet score (partly motivated by the need to secure copyright in a USA). This is the version I chose to close the montage.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Project 366 - Beethoven Floats My BOAT

Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.

Yes, he’s my Best Of All Time.

Today’s installment of Time Capsules completes our look into the Classical period and its principal composers. Beethoven, and to a lesser extent Schubert, can’t be readily thought of as “Late classical” composers, but rather as “transitional” composers, marking the bridge from the formulaic, classical approaches and the more expansive “romantic” school of composition.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Beethoven was a German pianist and composer whose innovative compositions combined vocals and instruments, widening the scope of sonata, symphony, concerto and quartet. He is the crucial transitional figure connecting the Classical and Romantic ages of Western music. Beethoven’s personal life was marked by a struggle against deafness, and some of his most important works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he was quite unable to hear. Beethoven died at age 56.

Much ahs been written about Beethoven’s music, his contemporary and lasting influence and legacy, but the singular storyline about the man, as stated above, was his struggle with deafness. At times driven to extremes of melancholy by his affliction, yet despite his rapidly progressing deafness, Beethoven continued to compose at a furious pace. From 1803 to 1812, what is known as his "middle" or "heroic" period, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs. The most famous among these were symphonies No. 3-8, the "Moonlight Sonata," the "Kreutzer" violin sonata and Fidelio, his only opera. In terms of the astonishing output of superlatively complex, original and beautiful music, this period in Beethoven's life is unrivaled by any of any other composer in history.

When Beethoven died, he left (as many other composers) a great many compositions behind. In Beethoven's case, a sizable majority of his works were published. However, some works were not published, and some works were unfinished, either because he had laid them aside, or died before he could finish them. All of Beethoven's compositions up to and including Opus 135 were published in Beethoven's lifetime; later numbers were published posthumously, and are generally denoted by "Op. posth." In 1955, Georg Kinsky and Hans Halm published a catalogue of Beethoven's works, in which they assigned numbers to 205 "Werke ohne Opuszahl" (meaning "works without opus number" in German) to some of Beethoven's unpublished works. These numbers given these works are generally preceded by "WoO".

Your Beethoven Time Capsules

Listener Guide # 174 – Beethoven Sonatas

More than anybody in the late Classical era, Beethoven is the composer responsible for bringing chamber music to the concert hall. Among his chief achievements in the genre we note seventeen string quartets, several trios, ten violin sonatas and five cello sonatas. This listener guide shares three sonatas for instrument with piano accompaniment (ITYWLTMT Montage #202 - 12 jun 2015)

Listener Guide # 175 –Themes and Variations

The piano music of Beethoven is an indispensable part of the repertoire of any serious pianist. Especially appealing are the variations, magnificent compositions second only to the sonatas and concertos in importance, and among the most recorded and performed music in the piano literature. (ITYWLTMT Montage #138 - 10 Jan 2014)


Listener Guide # 176 – Kovacevich & Beethoven

Although Beethoven was far from the first great composer to write multi-movement compositions for solo piano, he was, nonetheless, the first to show how much power and variety of expression could be drawn forth from this single instrument. For composers who came after him, notably, but not exclusively, Brahms, his sonatas became the standard of excellence. This listener Guide features Srephen Kovacevich performing Beethoven last three of 32 sonatas. (ITYWLTMT Montage #198 - 15 May, 2015 )

Listener Guide # 177 – Beethoven’s #1 Montage

Beethoven composed at least six concerti intended for the piano, and this listener guide features his first, along with the first symphony and first overture to his opera Leonore (later renamed Fidelio) (ITYWLTMT Montage # 28 - October 28, 2011)

Listener Guide # 178 – Brautigam & Beethoven

Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam is our feature soloist in this pair of Beethoven piano concertos: the second and the op. 61a adaptation of the violin concerto. (ITYWLTMT Montage #56 - 25 May, 2012)

Listener Guide # 179 – Serkin & Beethoven

On December 22nd 1808, Beethoven organized a musical academy comcert in Vienna where he premiered three major works – the first of these was his fourth piano concerto, performed in thls Time Capsule by the late Rudolf Serkin. Also featured in this montage, the Hammerklavier sonata. (ITYWLTMT Montage #267 – 22 Dec, 2017)

Listener Guide # 180 –Beethoven Live!

Also premiered on December 22nd 1808, Beethoven’s symphonies no. 5 and 6! This Time Capsule features both of these works recorded in concert, performed by two conducting legends: Wilhelm Furtwangler and Victor de Sabata. (Once Upon the Internet #59 – 26 Dec, 2017)

Listener Guide # 181 – The Creatures of Prometheus

Beethoven’s stage works include overtures and incidental music to at least four plays, his opera Fidelio and this ballet, first performed at Vienna’s Hofburgtheater on 28th March 1801. (Cover2Cover #8 – 10 Apr 2018)

 Listener Guide # 182 – King Stephan and Late Choral Works

This Time Capsule features a cover-to-cover performance of a vintage Michael Tilson Thomas recording of the complete incidental music to the play King Stephan, along with a number of short vocal and choral works, and filler material including a loud surprise!. (ITYWLTMT Montage # 69 - 31 Aug, 2012)

Listener Guide # 183 & 184 – Fidelio (Klemperer, 1962)

Beethoven’s only opera, like many of his epic works, had a long and tortuous gestation, resulting in at least two versions of the opera – an earlier three act version (Leonore) and the later much revised two-act version we know today. This vintage stidio performance features Christa Ludwig and Jon Vickers, with Otto Klemperer conducting (Once or Twice a Forrtnight – 21 Apr 2012)

More Beethoven Listener Guides (From Part 1): 25, 30, 40, 69, 83, 114, 117, 120 & 122